Your Canoe/Kayak There
of us, getting our canoe/kayak to the water involves cartopping.
Improper car topping can cause accidents and lost canoes/kayaks.
Start with a solid, well made roof rack and lash the canoe down
to both cross bars. Tie both ends of the canoe to the bumpers.
Rope is much better than rubber stretch ties. The best way is
to secure the midpoint of a rope about 15 feet long to each
end of the thwarts on the canoe, and lash the rope ends to the
bumpers as far apart as possible in a Vee arrangement to keep
the canoe secure in a crosswind.
kayak carrier is the safest investment you can make. Your kayak
will cradle with specialized straps for a positive securing
system. Tie down the bow and stern lines to the car bumper.
This will give the kayak more lateral stability and will help
secure the kayak and the racks to the car.
the Water and Off--Not Into--Be Safe
source of canoe/kayak damage (and wet paddlers) is the simple
act of putting a canoe/kayak into the water and getting into
it or getting ashore. Do not push a canoe/kayak across rough
rocky shores. Carry them to the water. To carry a canoe the
best method is one person on each side at the center of the
canoe. At the waters edge, lower one end onto the water
and slide the canoe out and afloat, the bottom unscratched.
is a poor bridge. It is designed to carry a load when supported
by water, but is weak and unstable with one end on shore and
the midbody unsupported. With the canoe floating freely, preferably
parallel to the shore or dock, while your partner holds the
canoe steady on shore, enter it by placing one foot in the center
of the canoe. Crouch low and grasp the far gunwale with one
hand, and as you transfer your weight to the foot in the canoe,
swing the other foot on board. If you have to move in a canoe,
keep your weight low, your feet along the centerline, and hold
onto both gunwales. Once in the canoe you can steady the canoe
by placing your paddle in the water against the bottom of the
water with the blade flat against the side of the canoe while
your partner safely enters. Wear life jackets for your safety.
way to approach shore is with the canoe/kayak turned to point
upstream and pull against the shore parallel, or run aground
at a slight angle. You should receive specialized instructions
on how to enter and exit the kayak for added pleasure and safety.
and state laws require that all boats carry a Coast Guard approved
lifejacket, also known as a PFD (Personal Flotation Device)
for each person aboard. Washington law requires that the lifejacket
be worn by children 12 years of age and younger. Although the
law does not require that they be worn by an individual over
12 years of age, any PFD not worn will rapidly drift away if
you should capsize. The life jacket is not to be considered
a substitute for swimming ability. A life jacket is an aid to
buoyancy, and swimming skills are still the basic ingredient
to water safety. A life jacket that feels comfortable, light
in weight, durable, roomy in the armholes for unrestricted paddling
action is what you need. Wearing a life jacket should be as
automatic as wearing a seatbelt. Falling or being tossed out
of your boat can be sudden and unexpected. The best protection
you have is your life jacket.. .it wont work if you dont
wear it! You must wear your life jacket in the manner which
the manufacturer intended it to be worn. Also, place a whistle
on your life jacket, as you must have some means of making an
efficient sound signal if you need assistance.
empty canoe/kayak will not upset even on very rough water. People
tip canoes/kayaks. Two people in a canoe is a safe load. Keep
your canoe properly trimmed from end to end. Generally, large
or heavy people should sit in the stern of a canoe. A canoe
will feel tippy at first to most people. For example, two people
weigh four times as much as a canoe. If they sit on seats with
their weight high above the water, and both leans to the same
side, the canoe is certain to tip over. The middle of a canoe
is wide and flat and provides most of the stability and carrying
capacity. The ends of a canoe are round like a log. Sitting
alone in a canoe on a stern seat is like sitting on a log. With
half of the canoe out of the water any breeze will blow the
high bow out of control. Move near the wide center, kneel against
a thwart or sit on the front seat but facing the center of the
canoe. Keep weight low in a canoe and avoid sudden movements.
your kayak, make certain that you have placed a set of quality
flotation bags at each end, and arrange any gear that you are
taking along for proper buoyancy. Once you have mastered entering
your kayak, and you are securely seated in your cockpit you
need to explore the stability of your kayak and determine the
critical point of capsize. This is accomplished by leaning to
either side before you actually lose control and tip over. You
can use your paddle blade as a stabilizer as you lean over without
letting the kayak slip out from under you. You also need to
move your hips back and forth to get a good feeling for the
First Few Strokes
idea in mind. You propel the canoe/kayak by sticking the paddle
in the water and pulling the canoe/kayak up to the paddle and
not by pulling the paddle through the water. The canoe/kayak
moves several feet through the water while the paddle slips
only a few inches. With your paddle you can pull your canoe
/kayak forward, backward, sideward or diagonally.
four basic parts to a stroke for canoeing: the Catch, Power
Phase, Withdrawal, and Return. The Catch begins when the paddle
tip first touches the water. Next, the paddle blade is quickly
jammed into the water while pulling the canoe up to your paddle.
This is the Power Phase. The completion of the Power Phase occurs
when your hand reaches your hip. Quickly take the blade out
of the water, Withdrawal Phase, and return it forward in a feathering
(back of blade facing the water) position.
should your paddle be? As an approximate guide, the paddle shaft
to the top of the blade should be about 6-8 inches longer than
the length of your arm with the fingers extended. A seven to
eight inch wide paddle is preferred. There are various types
of grips. Select one that feels comfortable.
paddlers on board, the canoe should be trimmed to ride level
in the water. Hold the paddle so the blade is just above the
water and parallel to it like a beavers tail. Hold this
relative position while the paddle is out of the water and during
recovery. The blade can be instantly pressed against the water
and act as an outrigger to steady the canoe if it rolls, and
it is feathered against any wind.
If you are
paddling on the right side of the canoe, your left hand will
be on the grip and your right hand on the shaft. Drop both arms
to keep the blade parallel to the water. Swing the blade forward,
twisting slightly at the waist and reaching with
your right shoulder. At full recovery, lift your left elbow
to shoulder height with your left hand in front of your forehead.
Stab the blade into the water, with the blade pointing forward
at about a 30-degree angle. Push your left hand forward to set
the paddle nearly vertical and pull back with the right arm
and shoulder until the right hand reaches your hip. Dont
pull any further aft than your hip because the paddle angle
increases to a degree where you are not pulling the canoe forwards
but are lifting water, slowing the canoe, and wasting energy.
Reverse these directions for paddling on the left side.
is a highly maneuverable boat. You are paddling from a comfortable
seated cockpit position which places you low in the boat and
the water. Placing your hands correctly on the shaft of your
paddle is extremely important. The control or fixed hand of
a paddler retains a constant, palms down grip on the shaft which
regulates the blade for various strokes. The unfixed hand is
loosely gripped where the shaft can rotate smoothly within the
grasp. Usually, the control hand for a right-handed person is
the right hand and the left hand for a left handed person. The
forward stroke is accomplished, on the fixed side, with the
wrist arched slightly up for full follow through. After the
first forward paddle stroke, the control hand or wrist is dropped
so that the paddle is rotated 90 degrees through the unfixed
hand and wrist. A follow through is made to the original position
at the completion of the stroke and continue rhythmic paddling,
keeping shoulders and arms swinging smoothly and with slight
rotation at the hips. Bury the entire blade in the water rather
than slicing it across the surface. The stroking paddle will
angle from the hand into the water at about 45 degrees. Sweep
the forward stroke in a straight line along the gunwale, rather
than following the exact gunwale curve which could provide too
much off steering. Match the stroke in intensity and form on
the opposite side, remembering to retain fixed and unfixed blade
control. In back stroking, only the stroke not the blades is
reversed for this maneuver. As with a canoe paddle, the kayak
paddle can be held at the stern and used as a rudder for slight
course changes or corrections. A word of caution, since the
rudder is placed at the stern, it does not give much horizontal
As you paddle
along, youll notice that the canoe/kayak doesnt
always go straight, even when the paddlers are paddling on opposite
sides as they should or the kayaker is stroking the doublebladed
paddle on opposite sides, and the boat is trimmed level. In
canoeing the easiest way to correct your course is to switch
sides. Canoe racing teams do it all the time. Switching sides
help to equalize the paddling load on your muscles. A simple
signal for switching is for the stern paddler to call a monosyllable
such as HUP or HUT. If both paddle on the same side, the canoe
will change course faster and possibly tip.
usually turns away from the side on which the stern paddler
is paddling. Direction can be maintained by the stern paddler
using the hook stroke which is used when paddling
solo to keep the canoe going straight. To hook you
twist the paddle throughout most of the stroke. As you pull
back on the paddle, point the thumb of your upper hand forward.
This turns the paddle blade so that the edge nearest to the
canoe leads as it is pulled back. With a strong hook stroke,
a canoe can be paddled solo in a wide circle with the paddle
on the inside of the circle. To go straight, take off a little
of the hook.
The J Stroke
is also an important stroke for whitewater canoeing and is useful
for recreational paddling when a change of pace is preferred.
The J Stroke may be accomplished at the completion of the Forward
Power Phase, and just before the Withdrawal Phase. Before completing
the Withdrawal Phase, twist the paddle shaft with the thumb
down on the grip hand and make the figure J in the water. Lower
arm is straight with the paddle blade near stern. Keep the paddle
shaft as nearly straight up as possible and not at an angle
during the stroking phase.
control of your kayak doesnt come easy. Keeping the kayak
on a straight course may become frustrating. You will need to
make several one-sided recovery strokes if one stroking side
is stronger than the other. It will take some practice to perfect
equal power stroking and establish good rhythm.
moves straight ahead when both paddlers keep their paddles vertical
and pull straight back, parallel to the keel line, and paddle
on opposite sides. If either paddler swings the paddle out in
a 90 degree arc like an oar stroke, while rotating from the
waist, then sweep the paddle away from the canoe, it turns the
canoe to the opposite side. This is called a forward sweep
stroke; the reverse is called a backward sweep stroke
and is easy to do.
Of the many
special purpose strokes, the draw is the most useful
and frequently used. If both paddlers draw on opposite
sides of a canoe, it can be pivoted around its center. To draw
reach with the paddle beyond the side of the canoe as far as
comfortable, and a little forward. Immerse the paddle blade
and by pushing with the upper arm and pulling with the lower,
pull the canoe and paddle together.
technique to turn your canoe quickly in order to avoid a hazard
is called the cross bow rudder. The bow person,
without changing hand positions on the paddle, turns the upper
body and shoulders toward the opposite paddling side, swinging
the paddle up and over the bow, then places the paddle blade
in the water at an angle. The canoe will quickly turn in the
position, which the blade is placed. Body bracing is important
if the canoe is moving very fast. Practice this technique slowly
at first in order to get the good feeling.
the kayak requires paddling techniques and body control. The
sweepstroke is used for full or partial turns to the right or
left. Begin by placing the forward blade into the water near
the bow then make a wide sweeping arc ending close to the stern.
A short sweep when combined with a forward stroke on the opposite
side can be used for directional control, as an alternative
to turning. The draw stroke, like in canoeing is an effective
stroke. Lean and reach out with the paddle 90 degrees from the
direction the kayak is facing. Pull yourself and the boat steadily
and evenly to where the paddle was inserted. The stroke is completed
by slicing the blade up toward the stern at the finish. Sculling
strokes will keep your boat from capsizing. It is a forward
and backward motion of your paddle while making a figure eight
in the water as you draw toward the gunwale. The blade never
reaches the gunwale because of the return stroke of the figure
eight of the blade heads away from the kayak. The sculling stroke
is also an excellent stroke for moderate course position changes
while continuing downstream paddling. Bracing, high, right or
left means that the paddler leans hard and gets support from
the paddle blade. Remember, your kayak and the paddle are simply
extensions of your arms, legs and body as you develop your paddling
When to Lean Downstream
downstream lean can save a swamping or worse under many circumstances.
The purpose is to raise the upstream side of the canoe/kayak
to present the broad bottom of the canoe/kayak to the pressure
of the current. The current pressure on the bottom tends to
lift the canoe/kayak. If you run onto a submerged rock, stump,
or other object and hang up, your canoe/kayak will quickly swing
broadside to the current. Look at a bridge, pier or large rock
in a strong current and observe how the water level builds up
several inches on the upstream side. This same water level build-up
will occur against the side of a canoe/kayak that is hung up,
and quickly cause it to swamp. If you are so caught, immediately
lean downstream and the water pressure on the bottom may lift
you off. If not, keep leaning and shift weight toward one end
until you float off.
lean should also be used when crossing an eddy line between
a strong current and backwater where the fast current plays
crack the whip with the canoe/kayak.
and Practice safety on all waterways
Wear your life jacket.. .the experts do (Remember, 12 and under
are required to wear it)
Wear a quality helmet when kayaking
Use a spray skirt when needed
Use proper air bags front and back in kayaking
Know your ability.. .and the rivers demands
Dont go out alone.. .theres safety in numbers
Become familiar with; Safety Code of American Whitewater Affiliation,
River Rating Scale 1-VI, Universal River Signals
Wear a dry or wet suit, dress in layers depending upon weather
Leave a Float Plan before you put in. Let someone know where
youre putting in, taking out, and when you will return,
and the description of your car
Learn river reading
Learn CPR and First Aid
Learn use of ropes and other tying materials
Learn self rescue (including deep water re-entry)
Take advantage of instructional opportunities
Purchase quality gear from reputable institutions
Maintain your gear throughout the year
Keep your body in good physical condition
Know how to swim
Alcohol and water dont mix
A spray or touring skirt may also keep you dry
Avoid paddling at night
Safety---lightning, storms, unstable weather and large boats
are obvious dangers to avoid.
trees, log jams, pilings, willow thickets, and anything water
can run through or under, but where you and your canoe/kayak
cannot, are called strainers. If you get caught against a fallen
tree or other strainer, immediately lean downstream, and work
the boat free. If against a fallen tree, everyone should grab
the branches and lean downstream, and, if the boat should swamp,
pull yourself into the tree. If you follow the instinct to lean
away from the tree, the boat is certain to swamp, spilling you
into the water. You and the boat will be swept under the tree
where you could be caught on a branch and drown.
numbs you quickly, both the body and the mind. In 40-degree
water you become too numb to help yourself in a few minutes
and may become unconscious in only 12 minutes. Hypothermia kills!
Water below 60 degrees is dangerously cold. A cold water dunking
in a small shallow stream, which you can walk out of, could
be only uncomfortable if the air is not cold, but in rapids
or on a deep river it could be fatal. A wet or dry suit provides
the only practical protection from cold water. Good paddling
sense to remember is if the air and water temperature do not
add up to 100 degrees, then wet suits should be worn.
current may be as fast as in a rapid but it may be too deep
and smooth bottomed to develop the turbulence of whitewater.
It provides no shallows to recover in and may be complicated
by cold water, fallen trees, current flowing through standing
tree limbs, floating debris and log jams. High waters also bring
on weirs, ledges, reversals, holes and hydraulics.
are exciting but dangerous. Until youve developed sufficient
skill, go only with experienced whitewater paddlers. PFDs
are mandatory on the paddler, and in cold water, a wet suit
can save your life. If its never called on to do that,
it increases your comfort amazingly. Add extra flotation to
your canoe (even an inner tube will do if it is securely tied
in) and carry a bailer. A sponge or scoop cut from a plastic
bleach bottle will do nicely. When in doubt, SCOUT! If you dont
know whats ahead, pull out and scout the river from the
bank. Finally, dont hesitate to carry your canoe/kayak
around a rapid that is beyond your capability.
Falls---even low ones with little drop can be dangerous. Below
a low head dam there is a horizontal eddy which can grab and
circulate you. You will be pulled down at the face of the dam,
dragged along the bottom, surface at the boil and be pulled
along the surface back to the face of the dam. There the cycle
will begin again. Whether you wash over the dam or are sucked
into the boil from downstream, the results are the same: entrapment
and, too often, death. Portage around dams.
moving current can cause difficult eddies, volume and wave conditions
even on still days due to adverse weather conditions. A most
familiar set of rapids that has given you great times in the
past may all of a sudden become explosive when water conditions
change. Broaching may occur when your canoe/kayak is pushed
sideways against a rock by strong current and it collapses and
wraps itself around the rock. To avoid pinning, throw your weight
downstream toward the rock. This permits the current to slide
harmlessly underneath the hull of your boat.
cause total disorientation. You should carry a compass.
it comes to canoeing/kayaking, alcohol and water dont
mix. Drinking endangers you.. .and your companions. Coast Guard
statistics show that alcohol is a factor in more than 50% of
all boating accidents. In many cases, drinkers are sinkers.
Unable to practice even basic self-rescue, they often go under
once and fail to surface.
swim before you step into a canoe/kayak and wear your lifejacket
as the manufacturer intended it to be worn. You can be upset
by hitting a submerged log or rock, by a motorboat wake, or
other causes. Stay with your canoe/kayak! It should have sufficient
flotation built into it to support the occupants by hanging
on to the gunwale of the canoe. With the kayak, the air bags
placed in the bow and stern should keep you and the kayak afloat.
If you are in fast moving water, stay upstream of your canoe/kayak
hanging on to an end rope or the gunwale (kayak cockpit, upstream
grab loops) . You will be able to keep the canoe/kayak parallel
to the current, and get through rocks safely. If you are downstream,
a canoe/kayak filled with water in a fast stream can pin you
against a rock or obstruction with a six ton force. If your
canoe/kayak has turned over in quiet water, roll it back upright,
flutter kick your way into it, and bail or splash out the water.
An easier way is to shake the canoe/kayak dry. Grab the gunwale
close to amidships (amidships if you are alone), and push it
below the water. As the water in the canoe comes rushing out,
push the canoe quickly away from you, so that it rights itself
before the water has a chance to flow back. When you become
detached from your kayak quickly get upstream of the overturned
boat and guide it toward shore while hanging on to the upstream
grab loop. Never get downstream. A pleasant afternoon spent
learning these skills in the shallow part of a warm lake will
pay big dividends. Wear your PFD when you do it. The moves feel
different with the added buoyancy.
a definite carrying capacity for each canoe, usually printed
on a tag affixed to the canoe. Never load any canoe so heavily
that you have less than six inches of freeboard; in other words,
six inches of side between the water and the top
of the gunwales. That load includes the paddlers, of course.
The load should be kept as low as possible to keep the center
of gravity low. It should also be placed such a way that the
boat maintains level fore-and-aft trim.
is different from the canoe. Cargo space is at a premium in
a kayak. You should only take the minimum amount of safety equipment,
food, clothing, shoes, water, camera, lightweight backpacking
gear and other portable equipment in stern bag(s) to give yourself
more room behind the cockpit.
when whitecaps are visible-they can upset a canoe/kayak, and
make it difficult to control. Get a weather forecast each day
you are out. Bucking a strong head wind and wind blown waves
can be brutal work, and can blow you upstream. If you are bow
light, wind can blow your canoe around or cause control difficulties
with your kayak. When heading into a strong wind, trim the canoe
bow down. This will enable the stern, while setting high in
the water, to weathervane and align itself with the wind. The
simplest way to do this is for both paddlers to kneel in front
of their seats, or move cargo forward. In a strong back wind,
trim the bow light. When paddling on large waves, without heavy
wind, trim the bow light; this will help the canoe rise on the
waves. Waves created by a motor boat can best be parried by
taking them at a 90 degree into the waves so that its force
strikes the bottom of the canoe/kayak.
begin paddling be honest about your abilities and always prepare
yourself to understand the environment youre going into
or be prepared to accept the additional risks that it presents.
A little instruction can offer a lot of insurance. Many canoe/kayak
clubs, American Red Cross chapters, canoe/kayak dealers, YMCAs,
and some liveries offer instructional programs. As little as
one hour of competent instruction significantly reduces your
chance of a serious accident.